It had been a little more than a year since my last Phish show and I was ready for the weekend. It didn’t have the same energy as last year, the RETURN year, but like any Phish show, there is always a general good vibe. Interestingly, the turn out for both Alpine Valley shows this year was way down. In years past I was in the furthest reaches of the parking lot. This weekend I was amazingly close as far as parking was concerned. I talked to a couple of security guards and they estimated that the crowds were about 20K and 18K respectively. Seeing how capacity is about 38K, that is quite the dip. I think a couple of factors are involved; first the economy. Going on tour is an expensive undertaking and I think more than ever before, people had to pick their spots. Alpine is kind of out of the way for most tour rats, so if shows need to be skipped, these looked like the best bets. The second factor is the over saturation of the Chicago market. Phish played Alpine and Toyota Park last year, then Toyota earlier this year then back to Alpine. That’s a lot of shows in a relatively short period of time, so maybe it’s just too much of a good thing. The third reason is the Sunday show. Sunday shows in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin are easy to skip, folks got to work at some point. Finally, maybe after the euphoria of last year, the overall popularity of the band has waned a little bit and two nights at one of the largest outdoor venues in the country isn’t where their numbers are anymore. I think the smaller crowds led to a little lighter security in the lots because for the first time in a long time a little bit of Shakedown Street was apparent. Inside the venue the lawn was pretty sparse on the second night and I had lots of elbow room on night one, not that I’m complaining.
The show got off to a great start with a Tube opener, which was kind of a precursor for the weekend; short, well played pretty high energy. Going from Tube to Oh Kee Paa/Suzy Greenberg kept the energy up, but with Funky Bitch next it really was a long run of songs that didn’t have much in the way of jamming. Even Reba, a great extended tune, which came next, isn’t what I consider a jam vehicle and when it only lasts about 12 minutes, not a Reba for the ages either. Seeing a rarity like Fuck Your Face is always nice, but it just added to the long set of short songs. Back on the Train turned out to be the biggest surprise of the set, a decent little jam followed by another personal favorite, Taste. The rest of the set followed the theme of short, tight songs until the Antelope closer which is always a nice way to go into the break, but I was definitely hoping for more in set two.
Set Two started out much like set one, with Sloth starting out. The Down with Disease What’s the Use? combo was pretty much what I was looking for; a good jam, led by Trey and What’s the Use? has a pretty strong ambient feel so I was very pleased. It’s funny, but the kids around me were all excited for the Scent of a Mule, calling it a bust out of all things. I suppose it as this point, but it really isn’t that great of a song, and without a true duel portion within the song it feels kind of flat. Seeing how we got a Down With Disease, I knew when Mike’s Song got started we were in for a short and sweet version, keeping with the feel of the night. The middle songs, Dirt and Sneaking Sally Through the Alley, kept a very mellow groove going and even though Weekapaug is a great finish, even that was relatively speaking pretty mellow. The final song of the set, Bug, with it’s refrain, “It doesn’t matter,” sums up this show well. The songs were good, if short, and the overall feel or mood to the whole night was reflected by the closing song. I’m a firm believer that the encore is a kind of coda to any show, and a Donovan cover, he of the Mellow Yellow, tells you all you need to know how Quinn the Eskimo sent people off; happy, glad to see a strong show, but also wonder if the next day would bring a little more adventure.